Technology

Hatch asks FTC to investigate Google's market dominance

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate whether Google's search and digital advertising practices are stifling the marketplace.

Hatch sent a letter to FTC Chairman Joseph Simons expressing concern about reports in recent years ranging from Google restricting competing advertising services to collecting data from users' Gmail inbox contents.

"Needless to say, I found these reports disquieting," Hatch wrote. "Although these reports concern different aspects of Google's business, many relate to the company's dominant position in search and accumulating vast amounts of personal data."

The letter comes at a time when critics of Google's market power are gaining momentum, helped along by growing concerns over data privacy. But most of the lawmakers echoing those concerns have been Democrats and Hatch, the longest-serving member of the Senate, may be the highest-profile Republican to call for the government to take antitrust action against Google.

"We take all correspondence from members of Congress very seriously," FTC spokesman Peter Kaplan said in an email to The Hill. "However, we have no comment beyond that."

Google declined to comment.

Google is currently operating under a 2011 consent agreement with the agency settling privacy charges over its now defunct social network Google Buzz. The agreement requires Google to abide by strict privacy and disclosure requirements and to submit to regular privacy audits. The search giant could be subject to massive fines if the agency determines it has violated the agreement.

Critics have called into question Google's compliance with the order following an Associated Press investigation earlier this month that found that the company was tracking its users' location even after they had toggled off the "location history" setting.

The FTC closed an investigation into Google's search practices in 2013, letting the company off without a fine. Hatch asked Simons to revisit that decision in light of two record-breaking antitrust fines that the European Union has issued in as many years.

He also cited The Wall Street Journal's reporting that the FTC's career staff had found that Google was engaging in anticompetitive behavior at the time.

"There have also likely been other important changes to the market in the five years since the close of the FTC's investigation, including the shift to mobile platforms," Hatch wrote.

Updated: 3:05 p.m.

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